Part of our “Accidental Project Manager” series for people who lead projects without formal PM certification or training.
First things first: what is a project charter? Well, it’s any document that describes the vision of your project. You probably already have it, but you can call it by any other name. The charter collects the objectives, scope, organization and implementation plan for the project. By having a receptacle for these goals you can more easily work towards setting the direction of the project and gain “buy-in” from your stakeholders in terms of how you’re going to organize and implement the project.
To save you time, download our project charter template. Then read on to learn the four steps you need to take to help you map out your project clearly and easily.
Step 1: Establish the Project Vision
This doc is all about vision. What is the vision of your project? Without identifying this overall goal you’ll not be able to move forward with achieving it. If vision sounds too vague a word, then just look for what encapsulates the purpose of your project. Even more succinct: what’s the defined end goal for the project team?
You can then break your vision down even further into objectives, scope and deliverables.
Objectives: Now that you’ve got the vision envisioned, so to speak, it’s time to list about three to five objectives that the project is aiming to achieve. Make sure that each of your objectives are SMART objectives, or specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART is the acronym, if it helps you to remember).
Scope: The next step is to figure out the scope of your project, by which you’ll outline the formal boundaries of the project by describing how the business may change or be altered by delivery of your project as well as what is relevant to the project and what isn’t. Clearly defining the scope at the start of the project is key to helping maintain control of your project.
Deliverables: That brings us to the deliverables. Describe each one that the project is going to produce. Now you’re ready to take the next step.
Step 2: Catalog the Project Organization
There are four subsets to this step, as you identify how you’re going to structure the project. This is done through a thorough listing of its customers, stakeholders, roles, responsibilities and reporting lines.
Customers/End Users: The customer is always right, goes the old retail axiom, so let’s start here by identifying who the project customers are. Before that, of course, you’ll need to know what a customer or end user is in the context of your project, which is a person or entity responsible for accepting the deliverables of your completed project.
Stakeholders: After the customers, it’s the stakeholders you need to identity, or the person or entity within or outside the project who have a specific key interest or “stake” in the project. Let’s say the financial controller is concerned about cost and the CEO For example, know that the financial Controller will focus on your costs while the CEO will have a more holistic view of the project complementing the company’s vision.
Roles: Once you have done the above, you’ll need to assign the key roles necessary to deliver the project. That means the project sponsor, project board and project manager, with a short summary of each role and its responsibilities.
Structure: With these complete, you can now move on to describing what the lines of reporting will be between these roles in a project organization chart.
Step 3: Plan the Approach to Implementation
The project charter is almost finished and you already have a strong idea of what your project needs and how to organize it to get the job done. Now the next step is divided into four parts to help you implement the project.
Implementation Plan: One of your job responsibilities is to lead and you lead through creating an atmosphere of confidence for your customers and stakeholders. One way to achieve this is through the implementation plan, which must be well thought out and thorough. So, you have to list the phases, activities and timeframes of the project’s lifecycle.
Milestones: One of the more important things in the project to keep track of are milestones, which are bigger than tasks and should be decided on sparingly. Remember, these are important events in the lifecycle of your project, such as the completion of a key deliverable.
Dependencies: Time to make another list! This time collect all the key dependencies and their importance to the project. A dependence is an activity that will likely impact the project during its lifecycle.
Resource Plan: Now summarize the resources who’ll be working on the project by breaking them down into labor, equipment and materials. That way you know what you need before starting and can budget accordingly.
Step 4: List the Risks and Issues
We’ve made it, but there is one final step to take in order to have completed the project charter process. That’s to identify any risks, issues, assumptions and constraints related to the project.
You’re done. If you’ve followed these four steps then the end result is a clear and thorough project charter. This is foundational to the success of your project. Congratulate yourself, you’ve now better managed the scope and deliverables of your project, and on deadline and under budget.
Be sure to check out Jennifer Bridges’ video: “How to Write a Project Charter” below.
If you’re looking to be more efficient and have better tools to plan, schedule and monitor your project in real time and in an online collaborative environment, try ProjectManager.com for a free 30-day trial.